1 - First Impressions
Harry had never been in the same class as Tom Riddle before.
He’d heard of Tom, from the other kids at St. Jude’s School, kids who were in the other Year 2 class across the hall the year before. Those students whispered that Tom was weird. Not like how Harry was weird, where kids avoided Harry so they wouldn’t be beaten up by Dudley and his gang, but spooky-weird. Kids whispered that upsetting Tom Riddle would send the ghosts of evil snakes upon them. They said that Tom would always get back at them, three times as bad, and that their dreams were never the same.
Honestly, Harry just avoided Tom on the playground, assuming Tom to be the same kind of mean as Dudley—physically painful and stupid. Harry couldn’t even say what Tom looked like, never having anyone to ask a description. He imagined Tom Riddle to be an exact Dudley clone, only with snake-like eyes because of all the horror stories that included snakes in them. While Harry thought shakes were cute, that didn’t mean he wanted any snake monsters coming after him if he caught this Tom Riddle’s notice.
He avoided all the orphans who went to his school from Saint Wools, not wanting Dudley to group Harry with them. If that ever happened, Harry feared the other orphans would suffer Dudley’s wrath for being in the same category as Harry, and he didn’t wish that sort of pain on the other children. No, it was best that Harry didn’t talk to anyone. He’d tried making friends before but Dudley always made them go away.
Sometimes, Harry wished he was one of them… living at Saint Wools too, instead of with the Dursleys. Surely, it would be better than how the Dursleys treated him. But from how skinny and distrustful the Saint Wools Orphans looked when they were at Saint Jude’s School, Harry wasn’t so sure. Maybe they were suffering from their own Dudley, in the form of this monstrous Tom Riddle.
Thus, when Harry started his first day of Year 3 and discovered that he was not in the same class as Dudley for once (thank goodness), he wasn’t sure how to react when instead the infamous Tom Riddle was in the same class group as him. Was he trading in one bully for another?
Whatever he had expected of Tom Riddle, it was not another boy with dark hair and pale skin, a boy with intriguing grey eyes and a handsome face that made Harry want to stare. Tom Riddle looked like the protagonist of a fantasy novel, neat and solemn, nothing like the monster that the other kids talked about. Perhaps the rumours were a misunderstanding or a way to isolate the other boy, just as Dudley sought to isolate Harry. Perhaps Tom was just like Harry, awkward and alone.
Staring at Tom, who was avoided by the other children in the class, Harry couldn’t help but feel a certain kindship, a certain longing for someone who would understand, and maybe, just maybe, if he offered his hand in friendship then someone might reach back and—
But Tom Riddle’s head shot up, as if he’d read Harry’s mind, and the other boy glared so darkly at Harry, it was like Harry had been pushed into a storm of cold fire.
Never mind. Harry looked away, as soon as he realized how Riddle looked down on all the other children, how Riddle glared and secretly scoffed at them all… He could never be friends with someone like Tom Riddle. The rumours were probably right after all.
Harry stood paralyzed in the crowded platform, glancing back and forth at various visitors, and then at the signs for Platform 9 and Platform 10, trying to will them to change numbers… to become Platform 9 ¾ as his ticket read. But alas, nothing. By now, people were beginning to glance at him. Some of them looked concerned to see a young boy alone with his trunk, wanting to come over and ask him where his parents were (dead) but Harry’s twitchy smile kept them away.
The security guard was beginning to give him suspicious glances, mostly because of Hedwig, and Harry was wondering if he should just attempt to run away and live on his own. He could always self-teach himself magic and hope he wouldn’t blow himself up. He certainly didn’t want to return to Private Drive. He had enough gold from the Potter vault to stay in a hotel or something until he figured himself out—
A hand jerked him back by the shoulder and Harry yelped as he was spun around to meet annoyed grey-blue eyes. “Tom?!”
Indeed it was. Tom Riddle glared down at him, having gained another inch over Harry during the summer, dressed all in black with a green scarf and his pet snake Nagini snoozing on his shoulder. Harry hated how the familiar sight of Tom’s glare eased a bit of the tension in his shoulders. Maybe Saint Wools was taking a field trip to the countryside or something. Maybe Harry could hop a ride with them and figure out how to live on his own at whatever destination the orphanage was going to—
Wait a minute.
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Is that… a Hogwarts insignia?”
He pointed down at Tom’s trunk.
Tom’s face didn’t change. “It is.”
“Then you… you’re going to Hogwarts too?”
“Obviously. How else did you think I was terrorizing everyone at Saint Jude’s?”
Honestly, Harry just thought Tom was really good at blackmail, and that Amy and Billy were exaggerating. Harry hadn’t even clued in that he himself had magic!
“Now hurry up, we don’t want to be late for the train. This way,” Tom tugged Harry along. Harry could only blink in disbelief, not bothering to protest.
“Wait, so you knew I had magic?!”
Tom shot another glare at him. “Your drawings always come to life, Harry. Especially when our teachers weren’t looking, of course, you’re magic. You turned our teacher’s hair blue.”
Right well… that checked out.
Harry didn’t have a lot of time to process the fact that he had missed the hints that Tom was magical like him as Tom pulled him through a little brick wall onto Platform 9 ¾ and dragged him towards the train.
Harry barely had time to gawk at the beautifully polished red train or the crowds of people in colourful robes. Tom quickly commandeered a compartment for himself and Harry, levitating both of their trunks up above and settling Hedwig’s carriage on one of the seats. Hedwig hooted reproachfully at the rough landing, but was otherwise unharmed.
Tom, in turn, seemed determined to ignore Harry’s existence as he pulled out a very large book on Britain’s Most Influential Magical Figures and began to read.
For a moment, Harry stared awkwardly at Tom before deciding to sit on the seat across from him, pulling out his own book on Potions that he didn’t get the chance to finish with all the chores the Dursleys made him do.
It was quiet. But it was… nice. If Harry just closed his eyes, he could pretend that he and Tom were… normal.
He and Tom didn’t speak for the whole train ride. But they did wordlessly agree to enter the same boat together when it came time for the First Years to cross the lake. He didn’t think he and Tom ever really agreed on anything before, but when they both saw Hogwarts lit up in the dark, a massive castle filled with such magic and potential, he and Tom glanced at each other in equal raptor and the knowledge that this place would be their home for the years to come.
They didn’t talk to the other students, sticking closer to each other, to familiarity. But Harry knew that Tom was surveying the other students, trying to pick out who had the greatest influence and who would be easy to subdue. Normally, Harry would feel disgusted by the turn of Tom’s thoughts, but in this unfamiliar place, he chose to keep quiet and take comfort in his presence. At least Tom wasn’t Dudley. Or that snobby Malfoy kid.
“What house do you suppose you’ll be in?” the other First Years seemed to be asking each other, many of them scared of entering Hufflepuff or Slytherin. Truth be told, Harry didn’t see the issue with any of the houses. Ambition and Loyalty both seemed equally admirable traits to him. Ambition meant that you had plans for your future, and Harry definitely wanted to leave the Dursleys. Loyalty meant being a good friend, and that was something Harry hoped to be, hoped to prove to other students.
It would be so nice to make a friend.
“Slytherin and Ravenclaw seem like the most likely choices for me,” Tom suddenly spoke up.
Harry blinked at him, wondering if he should answer back, if Tom was speaking to him. But of course, Tom was.
“Not so sure about me,” Harry admitted. “I’m not the most ambitious or the smartest.” The most ambitious Harry was about his future was Plan Number One: Get Away From the Dursleys which would probably include A) getting a job, B) getting enough money to live on his own, and C) getting the proper licenses that an independent adult would need to live on their own.
Tom scoffed. “Your scores would be higher if you didn’t let your relatives influence your grades.”
Harry scowled at him though he knew Tom was right. The Dursleys hated it when Harry stood out, making Harry interested in his class readings but never applying himself in schoolwork. “Doesn’t mean that I’m as smart as you. I’m sure you’re a definite Ravenclaw.”
“You could be as well if you tried.”
“I’m not stupid, I just—” Whatever Harry wanted to say, responding to what he was sure was an insult from Tom, was forgotten as soon as Professor McGonagall came out to introduce them to the Sorting Ceremony.
Then it was time for the First Years to walk into the Great Hall.
It was silly, being nervous for this, wondering if this was a mistake, if Harry wasn’t magic at all. Harry wasn’t like Tom. He wasn’t handsome or charming or at the top of the class or powerful or able to stand up for himself. Any moment, he’d be the last student called and then Professor Dumbledore would inform him that there was a mistake and Harry would be sent back to the Dursleys, never able to escape and ow, why was Tom trying to dig his nails into Harry’s arm?!
“Tom, what the hell—”
“They’re about to call your name, idiot,” Tom smile-glared at him and oh. Right.
Harry turned his attention to Professor McGonagall again as soon as she said his name. Some relief spread in him, and he didn’t know why, but he turned to Tom for something, maybe to smile or nod. He wasn’t sure what it was he did, but he tugged his hand away, and tried not to feel as if he was sent adrift into the ocean without an anchor.
The last thing he saw, when the sorting hat settled over his eyes, was Tom’s intent gaze on him.
When the hat ended up sorting Harry and Tom into different houses, Gryffindor and Slytherin respectfully (you’re braver than you think, though I am leaning towards Hufflepuff for you, the hat had mused), Harry tried not to be disappointed.
It wasn’t like he and Tom were close after all.
Harry enters Professor Merrythought’s office for his first day as a DADA Teaching Assistant, carrying a box of his research notes as she requested, and nearly drops the box when he sees Tom staring aback at him.
Tom stares back, expressionless.
“You aren’t… here as another Teaching Assistant… are you?”
Tom doesn’t have time to answer, still staring down at Harry, still so unfairly tall, when Professor Merrythought skips in carrying a tray of coffee mugs. “Ah, lovely! Potter, you’ve met Riddle, yet? I remember you two went to school together. I used to partner you two up all the time. Now, I know I advertised for one Teaching Assistant, but you were both such strong candidates, I pressured Albus into letting me hire both of you! I hope you don’t mind, having two brains is better than one! Besides, your DADA projects were always the strongest together than when you worked apart and I know you’re good friends.”
Both Harry and Tom turn to Professor Merrythought in mild horror and disgust.
“We’re not friends,” they both say automatically, then avoid looking at each other.
“Sure, sure,” Professor Merrythought huffs in amusement. “I’m sure that’s why you both refer to each other by first name and say things simultaneously in a predictable fashion.” She holds out the tray for them both. “Tea?”
2 – Halloween
Tom, Harry came to learn, was subtle about his mean streak. He wasn’t like Dudley, unpredictable about his movements or chasing kids down to take their lunch money with brute force. Tom had a way of digging out a student’s deepest darkest secrets and fears until the student did exactly what Tom wanted.
Harry had never witnessed this, of course, but he assumed those rumours were right as he’d never seen Tom lift a finger to hurt another child. Tom was brilliant, spouting out facts that even the older kids in Year 7 and 8 didn’t know. It made sense to Harry that Tom psychologically terrorized other children with machinations that were beyond brilliant. However, he didn’t seem the type to lower himself to brute force like Dudley.
Harry almost admired Tom. If he could make Dudley quiver with a few words alone… well, then he wouldn’t have to worry so much about ‘Harry Hunting.’ But Harry couldn’t help but see the similarities between Dudley and Tom—people like them always used their advantages to put others down. Anyone who made children afraid of them, made children feel less than nothing the way that Tom and Dudley did, was scum.
Harry never wanted to be like them.
Thus, the first two months of Year 3 drifted by with Harry avoiding Tom, Tom avoiding everyone, and all their classmates avoiding Harry for fear of Dudley’s gang. It was quiet and it was lonely, but Harry was used to it. Better the quiet than being noticed.
Their teacher Miss Simmons was a big fan of Halloween, having lived in America for some time before she moved back to England. She insisted that the class learn to carve jack-o-lanterns for fun and told them that the best design would win a small cash prize and a bucket full of candy. Needless to say, his classmates were fired up to make the best jack-o-lantern possible, shoving each other back for the best pumpkins, and arguing over who got to hold the little carving tools. Miss Simmons looked overwhelmed by it all, regretting her decisions as pumpkin guts spilled messily on the floor. Harry doubted she would try the same activity again next year.
Harry kept out of the fighting, taking a small pumpkin and deciding to carve out a little snake on it. The shape would be easier for Harry to work with and he liked little garden snakes, even if he couldn’t talk to them. He liked how they huddled close for warmth and liked to sleep in the sunlight. Snakes were comforting, like little friends Harry could have while he worked on Aunt Petunia’s garden.
Besides, it was better than thinking about Halloween… better than thinking of the night his parents died.
There was some sort of commotion by Tom’s table, where Amy and Billy wanted some of Tom’s materials but Harry paid it no mind. Tom was probably blackmailing them into giving him their pumpkins or something, Tom hated art. He didn’t have to say anything, but the glares he always gave his work when he drew always made Harry want to laugh across the room.
When the bell rang for recess, Miss Simmons instructed the class to leave their pumpkins at their desks and go outside.
“Wash your hands first and go out single file!” she hollered after them, as students rushed out the door.
As always, Harry lingered a little bit behind, putting his things back in place. The longer he delayed going out to recess, the less time Dudley’s gang had to hunt him down. Eventually, Miss Simmons’ impatient glare forced Harry to retreat to the loo, buying another five minutes inside before the caretaker chased him out. Harry made sure to count the seconds in his head, wondering if he might be successful at counting all of the little dots on the ceiling, before he heard the caretaker’s steps coming down the corridor. Quickly, he left the loo.
Scurrying down the corridor to dodge the caretaker’s notice, Harry slipped past his class’s door, and would have been free to sneak into the schoolyard when he heard several pumpkins splatter on the floor and two children cry out in despair.
The gross splat and squelching sounds that followed it made Harry want to recoil away and hide. As he flinched and caught sight of what was going on through the doorway, he saw Tom standing over Amy and Billy’s desks, their ruined pumpkin remains all over the floor. Amy and Billy were cowering against the wall, staring up at Tom with tears.
“Hey, leave them alone!” Harry rushed in to stand between them and Tom.
It was the second time Tom and Harry had ever locked gazes, Harry usually avoiding looking at Tom. Compared to the first time, Tom’s gaze was murderous.
“Step aside,” Tom said coolly, as if Harry wasn’t worth his time.
“No, not until you leave them alone.”
“And what will you do?” Tom’s head cocked to the side. “Tell Miss Simmons?”
“It’s three of us against you. I doubt you’d come up with a convincing lie,” Harry kept his stance firm, though all he wanted to do was tremble. Still, compared to Dudley, Tom hardly scared him as much.
Tom’s laugh filled Harry with chills. “Then I suppose Billy will have to say goodbye to his little rabbit…”
Behind Harry, Billy shouted, “No, please don’t! Potter, don’t you dare say a word!”
Harry flinched. He forgot that Amy and Billy had to live with Tom, and all the consequences that would follow.
“Then let them leave quietly and I won’t mention this to anyone,” Harry decided.
Tom’s brow was raised, mocking. “Oh? What a bleeding heart you have, Harry.”
“Better than you,” Harry muttered under his breath. “To think, I thought you were better than this.”
Tom blinked at Harry in surprise, the break in his menacing aura like a ripple in a storm. “Better?”
“You’re usually smarter than this. Subtler. This kind of thing,” Harry gestured to the pumpkin remains, “is beneath you.”
The slight fall of Tom’s lips, the bewilderment, made the boy look so absurdly normal for a moment, that Harry felt his heart twist. But he couldn’t feel sympathy for a bully like Tom, so he quickly used that moment to take Amy and Billy by the hands and led them out of the classroom. He’d give one of them his pumpkin, he didn’t care if his marks fell. The Dursleys would prefer it really...
Tom’s voice followed Harry into the corridor, a simple question, devoid of his usual mockery. “And how do you know that Amy and Billy deserve your sympathy? How do you know that they aren’t disappointments as well?”
The question made Harry pause in mid-step, but he kept going.
Tom was a bully, like Dudley. He was only spouting lies.
Amy and Billy burst into tears once they were in the safety of the schoolyard and Harry spent the rest of his recess awkwardly trying to get them to stop. He had never been around tears before—Dudley’s crocodile tears towards Aunt Petunia didn’t count—and he had no idea how to comfort someone.
“Thanks for saving us, Potter…” Billy blubbered into his sleep. “I don’t know what I would have done if Tom had hurt my rabbit.”
Harry nodded stiffly, wondering what he was supposed to say to that. Hopefully Billy stopped crying soon. Harry really wanted his arm back.
“Tom’s such a freak,” Amy agreed, the word making Harry flinch, “who knows what he would have done.”
“…Right,” Harry muttered. It was just a word. Billy and Amy probably didn’t mean it in the same way that Uncle Vernon did. They didn’t mean it towards Harry, they weren’t talking about his strangeness. Just… Tom.
But the way Amy said it was too alike and the word still left a bitter taste in Harry’s mouth. He needed to know.
“What do you mean by… ‘freak’?” Harry asked, hoping they were describing Tom’s mean streak.
Amy and Billy exchanged gazes before they nodded at each other, huddling closer to Harry to whisper, “It’s just… Tom’s not right. He’s strange. He’s always alone, talking to snakes like they can talk back. And weird things happen around him… unnatural things.”
Cold began to seep into Harry’s chest. Freak, Uncle Vernon had yelled at him every night, I’ll have no funny business here, you unnatural whelp!
“What sort of unnatural things?” Harry felt himself ask.
“Nathan swears that the time he tried to borrow one of Tom’s blankets, there were cockroaches all over that tried to burrow into his face! And Sally might have been a bit rough with Tom during football practise, and then she came back looking like she’d never be happy again. And all we did was take his scissors, and then he started saying things about us, things we had nightmares about and, next thing we knew, our pumpkins were on the ground and—”
“What about your scissors?”
Amy and Billy gawked at him.
“Your scissors. You both had your own.”
For a moment, they said nothing, eyes wide, before Amy stuttered, “W-well, Tom’s were better! His things always turn better, even when we leave the worst things for him—”
“…So what you’re saying,” Harry interrupted quietly, “is that you took his things first, and that the others have tried to steal and push him.”
Amy and Billy flinched. “What?! No, we were just—”
“‘Taking’ his scissors,” Harry parroted the lies that Dudley often told Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon about him, not that his aunt and uncle would ever stand up for Harry. “Yeah, I heard you. And it sounds like you got what you deserved if he only destroyed your pumpkins. Why don’t you call it what it is? Stealing. Let go of me.”
Harry shook his arm from them and stormed off to his usual corner to brood.
He was so stupid. How could he have assumed Tom was at fault? Tom was mean… but he had his reasons. If Harry was in Tom’s place, with his own weirdness, alone in an orphanage without friends… being targeted by all the other orphans, would he have turned out like Tom? At least with the Dursleys, Harry had nothing worth taking. Dudley never wanted to touch Harry’s second-hand things. But if Harry had something nice, something that was only Harry’s, something that Dudley took… well, Harry didn’t know what he’d do.
When it came time for recess to end, Harry said nothing to Miss Simmons. He also ignored the intent stare Tom gave him all class.
Harry didn’t want to go up to Tom and apologize, he still didn’t like Tom—even if he understood him.
But he did leave the little candy bag of chocolates that Miss Simmons had given each student on Tom’s desk, with a little note.
I misjudged you this time, he wrote.
He didn’t sign his name.
The next day, the empty candy bag was folded up neatly on Harry’s desk, and Harry considered the exchange done and over with.
(He was wrong.)
Harry excused himself from the Halloween feast, claiming that he had a stomach-ache and would sleep it off. Hermione and Ron, who Harry made friends with when they had all been lost on the first day of classes, were worried but promised to save him some pastries. Hermione was in Ravenclaw while Ron was in Hufflepuff so Harry planned on pretending to be too tired to meet them after the feast.
He… really didn’t like talking to anyone on Halloween. At the Dursleys, he could forget everything while he did chores and then hide in his cupboard. Aunt Petunia’s tiny sliver of a heart always gave Harry half the amount of chores he was used to, and Harry would spend his parents’ death day just… sleeping. He learned not to think of what-ifs.
Harry didn’t want his dormmates to ask why he didn’t go to the feast. Instead, he decided to wander the corridors and find an empty classroom to take a nap in. He wasn’t in the mood to catch up on homework or read.
His footsteps echoed through the corridors, tiny ripples of sound that dared to brush against the silence. Every torch he passed by illuminated his shadow and Harry sped his pace up when some of the portraits began asking where he was wandering off to.
He just needed a place to be alone… a place with a view so he could distract himself from dark thoughts.
Eventually, his steps took him to the top of the astronomy tower. He figured he could gaze out at the lake and the forest, then nap against the windowsill.
As he climbed up the ladder and walked into the empty classroom, past all the telescopes and star models, he stopped when he saw someone already there by his spot.
Tom Riddle sat against the windowsill, one knee propped up as he surveyed the grounds below. He looked different from the times Harry was forced to work with him in DADA. Not quite relaxed, but… content. The weight that followed Tom around, his ambitions and mask, were lighter here.
Harry didn’t know what to do with that image.
But Tom turned towards him before he could figure it out.
Tom’s brow rose as his face went carefully blank. “Harry,” he said simply.
They stared at each other.
Their relationship wasn’t exactly cordial, but it wasn’t as horrible as Harry’s rivalry with Malfoy was. Tom and Harry ignored each other’s presences save for DADA, where Professor Merrythought happily paired Gryffindors and Slytherins together for all her classes. In DADA, Harry and Tom had to be polite to each other, though Harry would never admit that he enjoyed Tom’s insight on magic and loved the creativity that Tom allowed him with their spellwork.
No, if anyone asked how Harry felt about Tom… he’d say that he disliked him. Tom was so… annoyingly charming in front of everyone at Hogwarts, and it infuriated Harry, made him want to tear the mask away and reveal the petty bastard underneath. What was worse, was that the mask fell away once Tom worked with Harry. Around Harry, Tom was rude, sarcastic, and aggravating. Whatever happened to the days when Tom and Harry hardly spoke to each other?
“You’re not at the feast,” Tom observed.
“Neither are you,” Harry narrowed his eyes.
Tom shrugged. Neither of them had torn apart their gaze yet.
“Look,” Harry snapped, “I can’t deal with this right now. I just need a place with some quiet, away from everyone else, so can we not do this?”
Tom blinked at him. “There’s a seat right there,” he gestured to the other side of the windowsill.
Harry paused in surprise.
“I won’t ask again,” Tom scowled. “If you want to leave, then leave.”
But don’t you want to be alone? Harry almost asked. Except… he couldn’t.
Today, Harry’s parents died, killed by the wizard they were trying to arrest. Such pointless deaths by a man that the aurors had never caught. Today, Harry was tired of being alone and was tired of people all at once. Today, Harry could see that Tom felt the same, even if he didn’t know why.
So he took the seat by the window sill and he said nothing.
They were both alone, but at least tonight, they weren’t lonely.
When Harry woke up, curled up against the windowsill, there was a piece of treacle tart wrapped up on his lap.
It was cold when Harry bit into it… but still sweet.
“Really, boys? Ambushing a teacher?” Harry mutters under his breath, trapped in the boy’s lavatory with a giant troll of all things.
Honestly, he should have expected this from the Slytherin students.
He and Tom have done their best to present a positive working environment in front of their students. They’ve collaborated on their marking schemes and lesson plans, helped support Professor Merrythought, and run extra help hours on weekends. But underneath it all, they’ve been competing for the spot of ‘Best DADA TA Ever—Suck It’ as Harry called it. If Harry holds a tutorial at six o’clock, Tom holds one too. If Harry gets twenty students at a tutorial, Tom tries to recruit twenty-two. If Harry buys Professor Merrythought a coffee, Tom actually makes her one from scratch and smirks at Harry while Professor Merrythought praises Tom’s talents.
It’s infuriating, and makes Harry double his efforts on being the better TA.
He’s put in more research on effective teaching practises and study guides than he has in his past seven years at Hogwarts.
Naturally, his and Tom’s efforts (and secret competition) haven’t gone unnoticed by the students… especially the sharper ones in Slytherin and Ravenclaw. The more business-orientated Ravenclaws have taken the opportunity place bets and votes on who the Best TA is, extremely close-lipped about the results for maximum profits. The more practical Slytherins have taken this opportunity to show more support for Tom.
The impulsive Slytherins? Well… they make up some scheme about a student crying in the boy’s lavatory on Halloween night and lure Harry in there to trap him with a troll. Because apparently Harry’s a threat to Tom’s reputation… or something.
Honestly, the hat should make a fifth house for all the stupid people, because this plan makes no sense whatsoever. Harry is a fully grown adult and his specialty is DADA, did they think Harry would faint in terror like a first year?
Harry easily binds the troll and knocks it out with some of the strongest curses he knows and sends a patronus to Dumbledore to inform him about the situation just as Tom bursts through the bathroom doors, perfect hair all astray and robes ruffled.
“Harry!” Tom marches up to him, hands over Harry’s shoulders as he checks him over. “Are you alright? Did it hurt you?!”
“What?” Harry barely has time to reply before Tom nods approvingly at the bound troll. “Wait how did you know I was here?”
“My… students,” Tom sneers, “were awfully chatty. I’ve sent them to the headmaster to be dealt with, and if Dumbledore doesn’t give them suitable punishments, I will.”
“Look, you don’t need to cause a fuss over this. I handled it, I’m fine. You’re not going to get any more brownie points for punishing them. That might make you lose the competition with the other Slytherins, if they think you favour me.”
Tom actually looks affronted by this. “What good is a competition if the only worthy competition is sabotaged?”
“Oh,” Harry blinks from the unexpected compliment.
“Don’t look so surprised. You know that I only worked with you in DADA because you produced the best results in the subject. If I didn’t want to work with you, I would have convinced Professor Merrythought to partner me with someone else all those years at Hogwarts.”
“Oh…” Harry says again, wondering if the Stupidity has become a virus that he caught from the Slytherin students who started all this in the first place because he doesn’t know how to say anything else. “Thank you.”
Tom huffs. “Thank me by not falling for Slytherin tricks. I thought you were smarter than this.”
“Hey! In my defense, they said someone was crying! We’re supposed to protect our students, I didn’t think they had the gall to sic a troll on me! Honestly, I’m surprised they got a troll into the school in the first place, maybe they should be given an O for smuggling.”
“Next time, call me and I’ll go with you.”
“Like I said, I handled it. See?” Harry points at the bound troll, “Handled! Now help me levitate this troll to Hagrid’s hut, he can take care of it.”
“Really? Giving him another beast to mishandle?”
“Hagrid’s brilliant with creatures and you know it, you just don’t like to admit that you hate his pet spider.”
“As I told you before, Nagini is the one that hates that thing, not me.”
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem for you to help me get this troll to the grounds. It’ll help us avoid the feast, come on.”
Tom rolls his eyes and opens out his hand expectantly.
“Really?” Harry fights back a smile.
Quietly, Harry hands over a little candy bag of chocolate. In exchange, Tom hands him a wrapped-up treacle tart, just as they always have every Halloween.
The exchange complete, they lift up their wands to levitate the troll out of the corridor.
It’s the first Halloween where Harry hasn’t thought of his parents, not once.
3 – Christmas
“Now who’s excited for Christmas this year?” Miss Simmons addressed their class at the end of the day, all smiles and false kindness.
Everyone in the class raised their hands save for Harry and Tom, who avoided notice as they sat far in the back. Harry avoided his teacher’s eyes and met Tom’s intent gaze.
Relief filled Harry that someone else hated Christmas too, perhaps even dreaded it. Harry never had a good Christmas with the Dursleys, and he doubted Christmas at Saint Wools was any better, even if the other orphans from Saint Wools chatted in excitement about it. Did Tom ever receive a Christmas present? Or did he get leftover gifts like Harry—paper clips and a crumpled up single pound note, old socks and no dinner?
Harry would never ask him. He hated it when people talked about Christmas and he had no doubt that Tom was the same.
He only nodded at Tom and pretended to be as excited as everyone else.
At the end of the day, as Harry waited for Uncle Vernon to pick him and Dudley up from school, he noticed Tom lingering by the school gates.
He and Tom didn’t bother talking to each other much. Sometimes Miss Simmons put them in the same group together for school, as no one else wanted to partner with them. Tom was smart, an extreme perfectionist, and still cruel to other kids from his orphanage. But he didn’t glare at Harry anymore. In fact, he just watched Harry intently, suspiciously even.
Harry didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. Dudley still stalked anyone who acknowledged Harry, after all.
But Tom was a good partner for schoolwork, and he never made Harry feel stupid like the other children did.
When Uncle Vernon finally pulled up his car in the parking lot, Harry and Dudley passed by Tom at the gate. Harry mustered up his courage and murmured a quick, “See you next year,” at Tom, rather than the standard ‘happy holidays’ platitudes.
He didn’t look back to see Tom’s wide eyes. If he had, he might have smiled.
Harry knew that Tom would be staying behind at Hogwarts for the winter break. He didn’t have to ask Tom, it was obvious as Harry’s decision to stay was.
They were both unwanted orphans, and the people they lived with knew it too.
Since Halloween, Harry and Tom seemed to have reached a strange truce. They tolerated each other during DADA, if only because Professor Merrythought adored pairing them up together for assignments, and even helped each other with homework. Harry didn’t approve of how the Slytherins seemed to fear Tom, but as long as it was justified, Harry didn’t interfere. Tom didn’t like Harry’s friendships with Ron and Hermione, but as long as Harry kept them out of Tom’s way, he didn’t target them.
They hated each other, Harry told his friends, but they respected each other.
Ron believed Harry’s words easily enough, but Hermione would always shake her head and mutter, ‘If you say so, Harry,’ as if to placate a child who still believed in Father Christmas. Honestly, Harry wasn’t sure if he should be offended or not.
Nonetheless, that Winter break, when he saw Tom duck out of Christmas dinner early (looking at disgust at the professors just making merry with the giant firecrackers and ridiculous hats), Harry had done the same.
He wasn’t sure when he and Tom had agreed upon this, but they met each other at the astronomy tower and sat at their usual seats. Harry brought forth two containers of hot cocoa, passing one over to Tom.
Their fingers brushed, just as Tom took the thermos of hot cocoa, and Tom looked away from Harry towards the evening-painted winter wonderland below.
They didn’t say ‘Happy Christmas’ to each other, but they did sit a little closer together, to chase away the cold.
Heads ducked close together, Harry and Tom sit at their usual table in the library (to encourage students to come to them for questions) grading through another round of test papers and poorly researched assignments. If Harry has to see another paper where the student just meanders around the answer just to fill up a page again, he’ll stab a student with a quill. Screw academia.
Judging from the poisonous scowl on Tom’s face, he’s reading another ridiculous paper where the student didn’t properly cite their sources or the facts are all wrong.
“I should just fail this moron,” Tom mutters under his breath.
“I mean, you could. You’d just have to justify it to Merrythought first. You know how soft she is on them.”
“This student wrote that if they ever encountered a boggart, they’d just quote ‘chill out and then die, I guess,’ in big capitol letters. Do they think this is funny?! Where’s their drive?! It’s like they’re asking to be expelled. And they’re from an Old Wizarding Family, they have no excuse for this nonsense,” Tom whisper-rants at Harry, hands flying up in carefully controlled rage, “and stop that, why are you smiling. Do you enjoy marking moronic papers?”
“No, no, I just… really admire how much you care.”
Tom scowls. “I don’t care about them. I care about Hogwarts’s reputation.”
“Fine, I appreciate your passion then,” Harry chimes in, suddenly feeling motivated to finish off the last three tests in his pile. Malfoy’s little brother is definitely getting an Acceptable even if Harry doesn’t want to give him one.
“You should,” Tom says smugly. “I am the superior TA after all, it’s only natural that you’d follow in my example.”
“Oh for Merlin’s sake, I am just as good a TA as you are—”
“—Never said you weren’t, I’m merely better—”
“And you can’t be the ‘superior TA’ if you keep scaring the first years with how strict you are. How many times do I have to tell you to be gentle with them—”
“That’s what you’re there for,” Tom mutters, still sore over the fact that even his First Year Slytherins flock to Harry for help.
“So let’s just agree that we’re both insanely talented in our own ways and drop it. It’s almost Christmas, after all. Good Will To all People or whatever.”
“Hm…” Tom narrows his eyes. “Will you be staying at Hogwarts over the winter break?”
Harry finishes off giving Hareem Sharma an E for an actual readable test. “Nah, I think I’ll either curl up by the fireplace at my flat or go over to the Weasleys place for Christmas dinner. They’ve been inviting me for ages but I never had reason to go. Neville also wants to come over, so maybe we’ll do something Christmas-y, whatever it is people do this time of year.”
Tom’s voice suddenly goes cold. “Oh.”
Pausing over his last test paper, Harry glances at Tom’s clenched fists. “What? Another student spell our names wrong again?”
“Nothing,” Tom angrily gives another T out to some poor Hufflepuff. “Just wondering when you became so close to the Weasleys and Longbottom.”
“Well… Ron is my best friend besides Hermione…”
“He’s a good bloke!” Harry insists, though it is concerning how often Neville turns red in Harry’s presence. He swears that Neville must have a poor constitution or something. “Besides, I don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. I might as well spend it with people who want me there.”
The quill in Tom’s hand nearly snaps. “I see. Well. Enjoy your Christmas then. It’s a silly holiday, but of course you’d enjoy it. If you excuse me, I have more assignments to mark in my office.”
“What?! Tom, Tom, what did I say?!”
Harry has no idea what he said to piss Tom off. The final week of school before winter break, Tom is positively livid, terrorizing all students with his cold demeanor and glare. If anyone thought Tom was charming before, now they realize how terrifying he is. Worst still, Tom barely acknowledges Harry’s presence and refuses to tell him what he did wrong.
It’s ridiculous. Harry hates how much it bothers him that Tom won’t look at him with mockery anymore or that Tom won’t sit with him to grade papers. Their silly little rivalry for Merrythought’s approval has all but disappeared, with Merrythought asking Harry if Tom is feeling under the weather.
And most of all… Harry misses the bastard. He misses how Tom gets so offended by silly little mistakes on student papers. He misses how Tom makes better coffee than him. He misses the silent looks they give each other, the silent understanding that Harry still can’t name.
Without Tom’s presence, Harry feels as afloat as he did when he graduated and realized that he had no ambitions, no dreams for the future.
He hates it so much that he firecalls Ron and Neville immediately to cancel his plans with them. It doesn’t feel right to enjoy Christmas with them when all he’ll be doing is fretting over Tom, when whatever it is between Tom and Harry that has remained unfinished.
The first day of winter break, Harry marches over to Tom’s office, a pile of papers and a picnic basket of treats in hand, and knocks on his door.
There’s silence, and then, Tom opens the door, staring sullenly at Harry.
“What?” he asks rudely, “Don’t you have to pack to see your Weasleys and Longbottom?”
“Nah,” Harry says easily, “I cancelled those. Just realized that I haven’t finished making lesson plans for January so I’ll be staying at Hogwarts for the rest of the break to get those done. Brunch?” he adds, holding up the picnic basket filled with French toast, bacon, eggs, and apple pastries. He will bribe his way back to whatever he and Tom are if he has to.
Tom stares at him for a long time, lips parted in an unreadable emotion, before Harry nervously thinks that he’ll call out Harry’s lie… that the lesson plans for January had long been finished, months ago.
But then, Tom just takes the basket from Harry, and moves out of the way, guiding Harry in. “Take a seat. I’ll grab some plates.”
The concession, and Tom’s warm hand against Harry’s back, makes Harry relax, content.
They eat brunch together while discussing DADA magical theory and the stupid things their students did over the week, knees knocking into each other.
On Christmas morning, neither of them show up in the Great Hall for mealtimes. Instead, they meet at the astronomy tower, as always, their own food prepared, and sit at the windowsills. Harry brings his favourite muggle fantasy series to read, and Tom brings some magical theory to peruse.
Harry doesn’t think either of them will break the silence. They never really have, when they come to the astronomy tower, drawn to each other like gravity.
But when Tom’s voice grabs him through the silence, with such a simple question, “What are you reading?” Harry doesn’t know what to say.
He stares at Tom in shock, while Tom only stares down at him in impatient patience, a contradiction in every way.
When the ability to speak returns to Harry, he mumbles, “A… muggle fantasy series. About demi-gods. You… probably wouldn’t like it. None of the magic is accurate. And it’s about twelve-year-old heroes.”
Tom blanches at that description. “You’re correct, that definitely sounds like the type of book I would hate.”
“Right, well, it’s entertaining and I enjoy it. So there.” Harry returns to his book.
Then a sigh, when suddenly Tom settles down at his side. “Let’s see what’s so entertaining about it then. Turn back to the first page, let’s read it out loud.”
Harry gapes at him. “What, like, together?”
Tom stares at him. “Yes. Together.”
“Look,” Tom scowls, “there’s nothing better to do, and I’m curious to see how terrible this book is. Once I tire of it, I guarantee that I’ll start reading aloud from my theory book which I doubt you’d appreciate.”
“Okay, okay, Percy Jackson it is,” Harry murmurs, settling the book between both their laps, Tom’s body warm by his side. “You go first, I’ll read the next page.”
It shouldn’t be so soothing, hearing Tom’s voice monotonously reciting mundane muggle prose while Harry interjects with dramatic voiceovers for the dialogue. But it is.
4 - New Year’s
The last day of the year always felt bitter to Harry, as bitter as his birthday which always went uncelebrated and unsung. He spent it holed up in his cupboard again, the Dursleys ignoring his very existence.
His only indication of passing time was Dudley’s old watch which he nicked from the second bedroom, just to have something that could count the empty seconds spent in this tiny space. It was almost comforting, like another heartbeat to listen to, and if Harry closed his eyes, he could pretend that the confining walls around him were a hug from someone who loved him.
But Harry knew that someone like that didn’t exist.
Still, it was nice to pretend, especially as the watch counted down the last minute of the old year.
As the last second of the old year passed into the new, Harry faintly wondered if Tom was alone too.
It’s not as if he cares, Harry thought as he stared at Tom upon the first day back in January. The orphanage probably gave each child some form of acknowledgement on their birthday, whether it be a small cupcake or the birthday song. But the thought of Tom only being given a small treat out of courtesy and nothing more, just feared gazes and isolation, seemed… somehow worse to Harry.
He muttered a ‘Happy Belated Birthday’ under his breath when he passed by Tom’s desk.
He had nothing else to give, after all.
It’s not pity, Harry told himself, not really. He just… couldn’t stand to hear the professors murmuring to each other in pitying tones about how it was a shame that someone as brilliant and charismatic as that ‘young Riddle boy’ had to wear such ‘horrid and dastardly second-hand robes.’
Harry had never wanted to hex another professor (besides Snape) so much before.
So what if Tom had to wear hand-me-downs? He was always so neat, keeping his robes in immaculate order, and transfiguring them into better shape than most robes. Tom shouldn’t be seen in pity; it didn’t suit him.
Harry may have disliked how Tom looks down on others but, he hated it when adults thought they could look down on Tom. Those adults had never lived through what Tom and Harry had. Harry had never lived through what Tom had. Those adults would never understand.
So no, it’s not pity, Harry thought as he anonymously mailed Tom new robes for his birthday, enough to wear for a week. It was just evening the playing field.
Harry’s New Year’s Eve begins with Tom barging into his quarters just as he was about to settle into another nap.
He falls out of his hammock (terrible for his back, but much preferred for naps) when Tom shoves an-anonymous-gift-that-Harry-doesn’t-know-about-nope into his lap.
“Why do you keep doing this?” Tom glowers down at him.
Still sprawled uncomfortably on the floor, with the present in his lap, Harry blurts out, “I’m sorry, what?”
“This! The gifts! I know it was you giving me new robes, without fail, every year at Hogwarts, and I said nothing because it would be foolish to turn down such useful items, and I didn’t know it was you until Seventh Year. And still, even after we graduated and had nothing to do with each other, you sent me books and more robes, I don’t need your pity. I have my own income, I can provide for myself!”
Harry gapes at Tom in disbelief. “Are you serious? Do you really think that I spent all that time picking robes that you like because I pitied you?”
“Then what else is it?! I don’t understand!”
“Tom, you’re the only one who could possibly understand! You’re… damn it, you’re the most brilliant person I know, even if you’re arrogant and downright cruel! You deserve good things, I shouldn’t be the only orphan to benefit from some trick of fate that I was born to parents who left me money. You deserved it too, and you still do. Sure, you make money now, but maybe, just maybe, I just like giving you gifts, have you thought of that?!” Harry shoves the gift back into Tom’s arms, struggling to find his footing after his fall.
Mentally grumbling to himself that he’ll just send a card next year, he’s stopped by Tom’s hand on his wrist.
“What?” Harry hisses. This is why he never wanted Tom to know who was sending him new robes.
Tom opens his mouth, then closes it, several times, before gritting his teeth and hissing back, “Do you realize that you’re the only one who’s ever wished me a Happy Birthday so sincerely, every year? I just… why.”
Tom’s eyes, so fierce, narrow in on Harry, pinning him in place like a butterfly nailed to a wall.
Harry doesn’t know how to answer him.
“…I don’t know.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Tom! I just… I see you, Tom. I see how smart and cruel and talented you are, but I also see how picky and snobby and arrogant you can be. I see you setting yourself apart from everyone else so they can’t hurt you… and I just… I see you,” he says lamely, “and when I do… I guess, I like to think I see a bit of myself too.”
Lonely, Harry doesn’t say, because Tom would never admit it.
But somehow, Tom must hear his unspoken thought, because he lets go of Harry’s hand.
“I… I need to go.”
Harry isn’t disappointed. How can he be when he has no idea what to expect?
But despite his words, Tom lingers in the doorway, and the way he holds the wrapped gift now… feels fragile and careful.
“…Happy New Year, Harry,” Tom whispers to him, and somehow, the words feel so different from Tom, now, in this very moment. The meaning unclear.
He can’t help but swallow down his nerves.
“…Happy New Year, Tom.”
“…And thank you.”
Harry does not whip his head up in shock, only to catch an almost-smile on Tom’s lips as he closes the door. He does not.
5 – Valentines
Valentine’s Day was the worst holiday in existence. Harry didn’t see the point of it except to advertise chocolate sales and make couples act disgusting with each other. He hated having to see Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon suck up to each other with their simpering displays of love, but at least they left him alone on this holiday. Dudley was always insufferable, stealing all of the cards Harry would receive from classmates—not that the cards mattered. Every school child had to give a card to every member of the class. It didn’t mean anything, just a ‘cute little activity’ for the teachers to give to students in order to avoid more work and to make every student feel welcome.
Harry used to enjoy classroom Valentine’s cards for the free chocolate but year by year he soon found it tedious especially when Dudley ended up taking all of Harry’s chocolate regardless. He learned to eat as much chocolate he could stomach on the day of, but not too much (too much chocolate always made him sick) and to hide the rest of the chocolate in his desk to snack on. In Year 1 and 2 of school, when he had been in the same class as Dudley, hiding the chocolate in the classroom never helped. Dudley always found a way to mess up Harry’s desk and steal his things. But this year, Harry knew how afraid Dudley was of Tom. He would never dare to sneak into Harry’s class.
As Miss Simmons asked them all to make personalized cards for each of their classmates, Harry looked up to see Tom with his trademark scowl. Harry had no doubt that Tom wouldn’t bother making something nice for each student. There was little point. He’d likely just write out Happy Valentine’s with some sort of stamp and cut out square pieces of paper. It was no secret that Tom had stopped trying in Art class.
Harry wondered if Tom ever received any Valentines—special ones, not just the generic cards that classmates were forced to give each other, but one made specially for him.
He had a feeling that Tom never did. He was only ever charming to guests that came into the school, to adults who could give him things.
For some reason, this struck Harry as a bit… sad.
He wasn’t sure what possessed him to do this, he rarely had the urge to draw after all, but Harry began doodling out a series of winged snakes. He coloured in every scale and tried to make the eyes as life like as possible, each wing seemed to shimmer with emerald crayon and the message simply read, I admire your intelligence. Harry didn’t sign it or add any hearts or sappy messages. They weren’t needed. This was just a message, just a silly doodle that Harry spent the whole period on.
It was the only valentine Harry had finished, the rest Harry must made crude cut-out hearts with the generic Happy Valentine’s messages on.
On the day when they were to put each other’s cards into their little ‘mailboxes,’ Harry waited for Tom to be distracted before shoving in his card.
He never did notice how his doodle of the winged snakes seemed to come to life, moving with a slither and flapping wings. He never did figure out why Tom’s eyes widened upon seeing his card, his fingers drifting over the snakes and the pasted-on letters with a strange reverence.
But with no signature or familiar style (Harry never shared his drawings, wanting to avoid attention from the Dursleys), Tom never asked if Harry had drawn it and Harry considered it a win.
“Urgh,” Harry hid within the nearest abandoned classroom to avoid the little cupid-dwarves that were hounding students with various Valentine’s cards. He hated this. Why did Dumbledore have to introduce this strange system now, during Third Year? What happened to awkwardly avoiding all the lovestruck couples and laughing about how silly romance was during First and Second Year? Even Ron and Hermione had caught the lovebug, mooning over various other students while being jealous of the other. They were giving Harry a massive headache.
Every boy that Harry tried to talk with, including Ron, was being gross—fantasizing about sexual encounters. The way they talked about women made Harry want to jump into the ocean and drown his thoughts of all the terrible imagery.
What was worse was that girls were noticing Harry. Girls that were strangers. Girls that Harry was very much not attracted to. They kept trying to flirt with him in the hallway and sneaking love potions into his food. Harry was too afraid to eat anything that wasn’t checked by a poison detecting spell now and he found that any girls besides Luna and Hermione made him flinch.
If he got another singing card waxing nonsense about his eyes again, he’d vomit on the nearest cupid-dwarf.
Behind him, he heard papers shifting. Harry turned to find Tom having taken over the entire front row, papers and textbooks organized neatly in front of him.
Tom scowled at him. “Did any of your admirers follow you?”
“What, no!” Harry’s nose scrunched up in disgust. “That’s the last thing I want. I just need somewhere quiet to study. Or draw.”
“…You truly don’t wish for their attention?”
“Like I said, it’s the last thing that I want. Why are teenagers like this? Are we going to be like this? I don’t want to be like this—thinking of… of…”
Tom stared at him blankly. “Romance?”
“Urgh. Yes. I mean, I don’t mind the concept of romance, but not if it involves so much… touching, and all the gross shit that the boys in my dorm talk about,” Harry shivered. “Sorry. You probably don’t want to hear that…” Tom probably thought Harry was being a child…
“No, not at all,” Tom put down his quill to look at Harry honestly. “I myself don’t see the appeal in physical intimacy either. It seems… barbaric. Trite. Pointless.”
Harry stared at Tom in numb disbelief. “You… you really mean it?”
Tom was tense, but he nodded.
Harry stood there, a little longer, in this growing relief and joy. “Oh, finally,” Harry leaned against the door. “Someone gets it! Hermione keeps saying I’ll grow out of it but I honestly don’t think I will?”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Does it matter if you grow out of it or not? People are idiots. Whether or not you… wish to indulge in… physical intimacy when you’re older will be up to you. But for now, I agree with you. This holiday, this need for physical intimacy, is pointless. We do have more important things to do with our spare time after all.”
“Yeah…” Harry agreed, relieved to find someone who didn’t want to talk about romance or sex. “We really do.”
The silence that followed was surprisingly pleasant, even more pleasant then the Christmases and Halloweens that Tom and Harry had spent together in their unspoken pact.
“Do you… mind if I stay here for a while and draw?”
Tom cleared away some space next to him, motioning for Harry to sit.
They spent the rest of Valentine’s Day like that, working and drawing side by side. When Harry looked up after sketching a serpent slumbering next to Hedwig, he saw Tom studying the drawing intensely.
“…I know, I know, it’s… not very good,” Harry laughed awkwardly. As always, his drawings began to shift and move, as if they were truly breathing, truly sleeping.
“…You stopped sending me drawings,” Tom said quietly, not looking up.
Harry’s hand froze on against his pastels. “I… didn’t think you’d still want them.” Harry had stopped sending Tom his Valentine’s doodles after they went to Hogwarts.
“…They make good bookmarks,” Tom muttered under his breath.
Some unspoken thing twisted its way around Harry’s heart, into his throat, so he couldn’t speak for several moments.
“Then…” Harry slowly pushed the drawing towards Tom’s hand, “for you. Thanks for… well, for not being as weird as everyone else this Valentine’s Day.”
Tom huffed, but took the drawing carefully, eyes surveying each detail with that same intensity he always did back in Primary School.
“I would never be like everyone else.”
“Oh,” Harry agreed fondly, “I know.”
Tom froze at that tone, before he quickly spelled all his items back into his bag and muttered, “I have to go,” and rushed quickly out the door.
Harry was left staring at Tom’s empty seat, wondering if he had said something wrong after all…
“Mr. Potter, Mr. Riddle,” a persistent Gryffindor First-Year, Akko Kagari, follows them persistently after the tutorial, “are you sure you’re not dating each other?”
“Miss Kagari,” Tom pastes on his best smile, “as we’ve said over and over again, we’re merely co-workers.”
“But you’re really friendly!”
“We’re not friends,” Tom and Harry say at once, the phrase such a practiced and shared statement between them.
“But you don’t hate each other either!” Akko points her finger accusingly at them. “You’re something, I know it, and I’m going to prove that prissy Diana wrong as soon as I prove that I’m right—”
“Right, well, good luck with that,” Harry says lamely, ushering her towards her classmates, who are all discussing something called ‘Tomarry’ for some reason. What a weird word, surely Harry heard it wrong. “Focus on your studies, do your rivalry thing with Miss Cavendish later.”
“She’s not just my rival, she’s my sworn enemy and I—” Whatever Akko says gets cut off by Harry shutting the door on her. Akko’s a very spirited young girl but can only be dealt with in small doses with how reckless and loud she can be.
“I have no idea how you can deal with her,” Tom tells him.
“You seem to deal with her just fine,” Harry laughs.
“Only because she fears me. For now. But she’s convinced that I’m soft for you now.”
Harry rolls his eyes. They both know Tom would never be ‘soft’ with Harry.
“The students are just hyper about Valentine’s Day. You know how it is,” both of them shiver at the thought of that holiday, “at least they’re not talking about sex.”
Again, they both grimace at the thought of it. Even now, entering their twenties, they both still have an aversion to the idea of physical intimacy. Harry’s friends merely think that Harry’s a bit of a prude or too much of a gentleman. But Harry knows better by now. He’s something that the muggles would refer to as ace, and he thinks Tom might be too. They’ve never really talked about it beyond their mutual distaste for the subject of physical intimacy.
Still, Harry wishes he could talk about it with Tom. It’s… rather lonely, seeing how close people can be with each other and knowing that if Harry ever tried to date one of them… they’d be turned away by how sex-repulsed Harry is. It isn’t as if Harry doesn’t want love, he desperately does… it’s just… he can’t seem to imagine himself being physically intimate with anyone. It’s terrible to him, illogical—to steal a word from Tom’s vocabulary.
Maybe he’ll always be alone.
Harry sighs as he helps Tom clean up the tutorial space. Since January, they’ve decided to share tutorial hours. They’re more effective when they teach together and teaching the block together frees up their spare time.
Tom studies Harry’s movements carefully. He senses that Tom wants to say something but before he can, an owl knocks politely against the window, carrying a rather large package against its foot. The poor thing looks ready to collapse and Harry hurriedly opens the window.
Immediately, the owl falls against Harry’s arms, hooting softly as it brings up the package…
A lovely bouquet of lilies and yellow roses, sent from Neville, along with a card that says Happy Valentine’s Day. Hope this makes you smile. Thought I’d send everyone flowers this year. Your friend, Neville.
The thoughtful gesture makes Harry immediately melt into a soft smile. “Tell him thanks,” Harry informs the owl, “but go rest in the owlery first. Don’t leave until I pay you and give you some treats, alright?”
The owl nips him affectionately before gratefully taking off.
Just as Harry turns around, he finds Tom glowering at the flowers.
“Who is that from?”
“…Neville. Just a friendly gift, that’s all.”
“Right,” Tom grits out. “A friendly gift. With roses. The day before Valentine’s.”
“No, seriously, we’re just friends. Neville’s been getting into muggle gardening. He’s sending bouquets to everyone.”
“And did he send everyone roses.”
“Tom, these roses are yellow. They’re friendship roses. Look, are you upset because you didn’t get a bouquet? You can have some roses if you want—”
“I don’t want any disgusting flowers! They’ll just wilt eventually anyways. Longbottom could have given you a most useful gift if he was trying to impress you—”
“Right. Well. I think that you’re just jealous that Neville picks such thoughtful gifts,” Harry shrugs, walking out to find a vase for the lovely flowers. Tom’s always been weird about gifts, especially from Harry. They’ve still got their strange Halloween ritual going on after all. Maybe he wants flowers this year instead of a drawing. It’s a bit disappointing, considering how hard Harry worked on his drawing this year, but it’s fine. So what if Harry’s not good at Herbology? He can whip some sort of bouquet up, just as good as Neville’s.
“I’m not jealous!” Tom roars after him. “I’m not!”
The next day, all of Hogwarts is caught up in the lovebug. Harry’s had to separate eight couples from making out in the corridors (his poor poor eyes) and yelled at twelve students for trying to use love potions. He thought he might be safe this year from any flirtations or admirers, but no, apparently a single young TA is a target and he keeps getting come-ons from several Seventh-Year students of all genders, who don’t seem to understand the word ‘no.’ Or the power imbalance.
Harry’s ready to flee to the Hospital Wing, to plead with Madame Pomphrey to diagnose him with some made up disease when Tom suddenly corners Harry in the hallway.
“Here,” Tom shoves a carefully folded little package into Harry’s hands.
“Don’t just stare dumbly, open it!”
“Alright, alright, just wait a little, I’m opening it now…” Harry’s voice gets caught in his throat when he unwraps the package.
A bracelet, a silver loop with a glass rose pendant encased in amber. The rose petals shine in hues of translucent red and sometimes blue depending on the light. Even just staring at it, Harry can tell that there are many curse detection charms on it and that if he taps it, it will tell him the time. It’s beautiful, too beautiful for someone like Harry.
“Is this… Is this for me?!”
Tom scowls. “Who else would it be for?”
“I… I can’t accept this! It’s too expensive, I don’t deserve—”
“Harry,” Tom’s voice is curt. “You’ve spent countless galleons on birthday gifts for me every year. You’re taking this damn bracelet and you’re going to wear it because it won’t wilt and it’s more practical to wear. No, it’s not a gift, it’s just… an obligation.”
A smile pokes at Harry’s lips. “An obligation.”
“Well… we’re not friends. But… you’re… you deserve so much more than just flowers. Consider my obligation done,” Tom turns away. “Now, if you could give me your drawing—”
“Oh, um, I… just a second,” Harry rushes away. Shit, he didn’t think that Tom hated flowers so much. He left his intended drawing, a snake and an owl flying together, in his shared office with Tom.
As Harry finally reaches the office and begins searching for his drawing, he stops when he sees a folder on Tom’s desk.
Normally Harry wouldn’t dare disturb any of Tom’s things but… he recognizes the pages sticking out of that folder. He recognizes the old crayon and sketched swirls.
It’s a folder of every drawing that Harry’s ever given Tom, from primary school to now, still kept in pristine condition, as if time has not passed.
Harry’s mouth goes dry.
“…Not friends,” he whispers softly.
If only that were true. If only Harry and Tom could figure out what they are to each other. Maybe then… maybe then this wouldn’t hurt so much.
6 – Easter
Miss Simmons had all the children hunting Easter eggs today. The whole playground was their unexplored map filled with chocolate treasure.
But as the other children eagerly went about, fighting each other for the best eggs, Harry found himself uninterested. He’d found one egg and that was good enough for him. Dudley would only steal any other eggs Harry found. He decided to enjoy his egg on his own when he spotted Tom alone in the corner of the courtyard within the shade of a tall tree.
Curious, Harry wandered a bit closer, not close enough to bother Tom, but to see what Tom was crouching over.
Two extremely small garden snakes with lovely scales and cute little beady eyes.
With a gasp, Harry walked closer.
At this point, Tom looked up, spotting him. Harry froze, expecting to be berated, but Tom only stared at Harry in way that wasn’t entirely welcome but wasn’t unwelcome either. Harry wondered if he should turn away, but he liked snakes. He thought they were cool and he loved petting them in Aunt Petunia’s garden when she made him do her yard work.
He stepped closer and murmured, “Is it okay if I pet one?”
Tom narrowed his eyes and then shrugged.
Satisfied, Harry went to sit by Tom, their shoulders not quite touching, and held out a friendly hand to one of the snakes. The tinier one with little blue flecks on her scales reached out to lick his fingers and he giggled fondly.
“You’re so pretty! I wish I could tell you that.”
Tom shrugged and hissed something at the snakes. Then he paused and turned to Harry. “She knows.”
Harry thought it was a bit odd that Tom liked to pretend to talk to snakes but it was still cool. “Good.”
As soon as he said that, Tom relaxed and continued hissing to the snakes. It was kind of adorable how much care Tom gave each snake, how gentle he was with them. Harry found himself wishing that Tom could show this side of himself to other people too. He’d definitely be popular… but then he wouldn’t talk to Harry anymore (not that he ever really spoke to Harry anyways… not that Harry wanted him to.)
Eventually, each snake curled up against Tom and Harry’s laps, content.
As Miss Simmons got ready to call her class back to the school, she paused when she spotted Potter and Riddle by the huge oak tree. She nearly did a double take.
She swore she saw Riddle smiling.
It wasn’t even questioned that Harry would stay home for the holidays anymore. His Easters were usually spent studying for exams. Fourth Year would be no different. But Harry decided to indulge himself and sleep in. Without Hermione around, he would sleep in till noon… maybe even longer… He often did that, when he found himself truly alone, thinking of his parents… thinking of how long it would take to escape the Dursleys, how many more years he had to go…
(Would anyone really miss Harry if he disappeared?)
But Tom bursting through the Gryffindor entrance to drag Harry out of bed ruined all of Harry’s plans and thoughts.
“Urgh… it’s too early for this…”
“It’s ten in the morning!” Tom buttoned up Harry’s shirt.
“How’d you even get in?”
“A bribe or two never goes amiss.”
Urgh. Traitor Gryffindors, whoever they were.
“Why do you even need me for this project? Just do it yourself…”
Tom grabbed Harry’s hand and dragged him out of Gryffindor’s common room. Harry didn’t bother fighting it at this point. Tom always found a way to corner Harry when he was alone with dark thoughts… Harry hated to admit how much he had come to need him…
“I told you that your presence is necessary! This is a complicated spell that needs two skilled spellcasters—”
“So I’m skilled then?” Harry perked up.
“Don’t let it go to your head. You’re passable, and one of the only students around while everyone’s gone so you have to lend your—”
“What a Happy Easter it is to see two students from Gryffindor and Slytherin getting along so well!” Dumbledore remarked when they nearly ran into them. He smiled pleasantly at their interlocked hands.
Both Tom and Harry let go of each other as if they had been burned.
“We don’t get along,” they both parroted.
But, Harry thought, we do need each other… don’t we?
Harry has no idea why Dumbledore invited them both to Easter tea. Tom loathes Dumbledore and Harry’s aware that Dumbledore has never been particularly favorable to Tom—not Snape levels of loathing, but a quiet disapproval nonetheless. Neither Tom nor Harry had expected to being having tea with the headmaster, but were both too professional to refuse when they ran into him.
Hence all three of them now nestled within Dumbledore’s office, sipping extremely sweet lemon tea.
No one’s said a word—Tom scowling, Harry grimacing, and Dumbledore smiling.
“So, how have you both found teaching so far? Galatea’s had nothing but good things to say about both of you.”
“Ah, that’s… nice,” Harry says awkwardly, never knowing to do with Dumbledore’s praise. He knows that Dumbledore tried to fight for custody for him before, but magical law stated that a child had to be placed with their nearest blood relative, magical or otherwise. That law cursed him to be with the Dursleys for so long… and Dumbledore has never visited. He’s a good man, but not a perfect one… too ruled by guilt and his own emotions.
But… Dumbledore tries.
Harry can at least try too.
“I’m still trying to get used to disciplining students. I don’t want to be too lenient but sometimes I think I’m too harsh,” Harry admits. “It’s hard to know the balance.”
“My dear boy, you have a good heart. I trust your judgement. It’s precisely because you doubt, that you come out with fair consequences for the students… which is more than I can say of other educators.”
“Well,” Harry shrugs, “I’ve a long way to go before I’m as good as you, Professor, or on Tom’s level.”
Dumbledore’s smile lingers for a bit too long before he glances at Tom. “Ah, yes. Tom. I trust you’re being fair to the students? I wouldn’t want any of your biases or inclinations influencing the students negatively, you understand…”
Harry frowns when he sees how tight Tom’s fists curl, when he sees the forced smile there.
“Tom’s a great teacher,” the words slip out before Harry can stop him. “I would know because I have to work with him every day. He’s always fair with the students, he holds tutorials to help them with their magic. He explains magical theory so well that even First-Years could understand higher theory. He never treats anyone differently because of their house. He’s professional, ‘unlike some educators’ and I have never seen him try to shove any political opinions or ‘dark magic’ down anyone’s throats. I know Tom can be rude and biased and downright stubborn but he’s so much more than that if you’d bother to look and—”
Harry stops when he realizes how much he’s said, to his boss, and how speechless Dumbledore looks. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Dumbledore shocked about anything and it’s… oddly funny as it is terrifying (Harry might have to find another job soon.)
But then Dumbledore surprises Harry as his face twists in regret. “I… regret to say that you’re right. I… I apologize, Tom. I let old prejudices cloud my perception of you again. If Harry vouches for your character… then I have no doubt that you’ve been an exceptional teacher…”
Tom doesn’t answer that apology, instead he… why is he looking at Harry like that? So intensely, so much like Harry has offered him the universe and more, like Harry has fought armies for him.
“…Thank you,” Tom whispers, but somehow Harry knows that it isn’t towards Dumbledore.
It’s towards him.
As soon as they’re dismissed, Harry flees, unable to face the emotions in those eyes.
Unable to face that precious ‘thank you.’
7 – Summer
Summers were unbearable for Harry, trapped with the Dursleys for two months straight with no excuses to get out of the house save for yard work and the occasional stay with Mrs. Figg. He had no new books to read, no friends who cared about him and nowhere safe to hide from Dudley.
His only comfort at times was curling up in the cupboard and playing with a few discarded toy soldiers that Dudley didn’t want. If he was lucky, he’d nick paper from Dudley’s room and colour with his dwindling supply of crayons. Harry was getting very creative with limited colouring schemes as each crayon slowly died a little more as days bled into August.
Harry had a little calendar that he kept under his pillow, counting the days until he got to go back to school. Yes, school was lonely, but at least he didn’t have to do chores. He liked the lessons and his teachers usually let him draw once he finished his work. Sure, he disappointed them by fudging his grades much lower than necessary but he had to do to survive the Dursleys. School gave Harry something to look forward to, unlike summer.
He wondered how Tom was doing. Tom had the other children in the orphanage and could go to the library if he wanted. Tom had… options, even if he had no friends.
He wondered if Tom ever thought of him.
(Probably not. No one thought about Harry. But maybe one day, when Harry saved up enough to leave the Dursleys or the Dursleys kicked him out… someone would.)
“…Let me guess,” Tom said drily when Harry slumped out of Dumbledore’s office like he was walking to his funeral, “our esteemed headmaster denied your request to stay at Hogwarts during the summer.”
“Ah.” Harry didn’t bother asking how Tom knew. “You too?”
Tom sneered. “Quite.”
By unspoken agreement, the two of them began walking to their usual place, the Astronomy tower, their pretense of rivalry dropped completely.
“…He said it’s not legal for Hogwarts to accept summer students, even if they’re well-behaved,” Harry murmured, kicking a box out of the way.
“He’s one of the most powerful wizards in the Magical World, I’m sure he could pull some strings. He just doesn’t care,” Tom scoffed. “We’re fifteen now, old enough to be responsible for ourselves in a magical castle and there are house elves and portraits to see if we get up to any mischief. Dumbledore simply doesn’t want to bother. No one cares for people like us.”
He wanted to argue that it wasn’t true. He knew Dumbledore cared… but it was the type of caring that was limited by Wizarding Law. Dumbledore didn’t care about Harry or Tom enough to bend the rules for them. He cared so much for every student that it wasn’t special or dear. It might have been better if Dumbledore was cruel, then it would have been easy to dislike him as much as Tom did.
“I’ll care,” Harry promised.
Tom froze against the window, the setting sun lighting his hair all ablaze, as if he were the sun’s messenger stepping in through the window.
“When I’m older… I think I’ll be a teacher. I like the idea of helping other kids feel at home… the way Hogwarts has felt for me. And if there’s a student like us, someone who needs real help, someone who needs an adult to fight for them because they have no one else… I’ll fight for them. I won’t let them be alone.”
Tom stared down at him, his expression blocked out by the sun. “Even if it’s against the law?”
“Even if it’s against the law.”
“Even if you’ll lose your job?”
“If it’s the right thing to do, even if I lose my job,” Harry vowed. He wouldn’t let another orphan suffer as he and Tom were.
Tom didn’t say a word. The setting sun still painted over Harry’s view of his face. Then, slowly, Harry swore he saw Tom smile.
“Then we’ll see who has the most impact on the future minds of Hogwarts. I, of course, will also be teaching and guiding the next generation of students.”
Harry’s jaw dropped. “What? But… that was my idea!”
“And I, too, had the same idea, completely independent of you.”
“Oh my god, we’ll basically be co-workers?! Why do you hate me so much?!”
“You’d be lost without me,” Tom rolled his eyes, shifting so he could look out at the grounds. It occurred to Harry that he had never seen Tom this relaxed, this… content.
“Maybe…” Harry murmured so quietly that Tom couldn’t hear. “But so would you.”
Tom didn’t agree… but he didn’t disagree either.
The two of them sat there for a very long time, watching the sunset.
When it came time to leave Hogwarts, they said nothing to each other, separated into their own social groups.
That summer, Harry itched for a quill. For once, he wanted to write to Tom, to ask him how his summer was.
But he didn’t.
(He told himself that it was because the Dursleys wouldn’t like him sneaking Hedwig out of her cage, that it was because Hedwig was staying at the Burrow for the next few weeks for her safety.)
(But maybe, there were some things too scary to face on his own. Maybe he too hid behind his instilled rules.)
(But Tom didn’t write either.)
(Harry knew he wouldn’t.)
“You’re going to write to me this summer and I’m going to write to you,” Tom declares on the last day of classes, while they wave all the students away.
Harry stares at him in surprise. “What. But… why?”
Tom stares at him blandly. “To correspond. Plan for the next term?”
“Oh… right… Of course…” What else would Tom want to write to Harry for? Harry’s not disappointed… he’s not.
Tom sighs. “And… I might also… want to borrow… another one of your… Percy Jackson books… for further research.”
“…Into muggle interpretations of Greek Mythology.”
Slowly a smile spreads on Harry’s face. “Right. Of course. Well, I did also want to borrow some texts from you too… You mentioned a better Potions Theory book that combined Potions with Runes?”
Tom straightens up. “Yes. We’ll exchange books over floo. What’s your address?”
The fluttering feeling Harry feels as he tells Tom his floo address is just nerves. This is normal. Completely normal. Harry gives out his floo all the time. To friends. And Tom is… not a friend. But not not-a-friend, so, everything’s fine.
“You need to read this book to me,” Tom waltzes in through the floor as Harry attempts to ice his cupcakes. Damn, now this cupcake has uneven icing. Oh well, Harry shoves it into his face, chewing the whole thing at once, much to Tom’s unimpressed face.
“Oh!” Harry says after he finishes the cupcake. “The last Percy Jackson book? But it’s so good. You can speed right through it. I’ve seen you finish three DADA books in like… a day.”
“The prose is atrocious,” Tom follows Harry towards the sink, where Harry washes his hands. “My eyes cannot stand to read another word.”
“You do fine when we read it together.”
“Yes,” Tom grits out, as if spelling a word to a toddler, “When. We. Read. It. Together.”
The feeling is back, threatening to bubble smiles on Harry’s face for days to come. “Let me clean up first and then we can sit by the fire. Do you want to stay for dinner?”
He stays for dinner the next day too… and the next, until he drops the pretense of reading books all together and just comes by to show Harry yet another headline or article that made Tom annoyed, just to have someone to bounce ideas off of. And Harry starts popping by Tom’s flat to feed him food when he forgets to eat or to ask a question about potions. It’s… nice. A kind of nice that Harry never dreamed he’d have.
It’s the first summer that Harry doesn’t want to end.
8 – Birthdays
Harry’s childhood birthday gifts (the ones he could remember) could be summed up as followed: one of Dudley’s old socks, a paper clip, the ripped off head of a toy rabbit, a new toothbrush, a chipped old comb, and a broken eraser.
He didn’t keep any of them except for the toothbrush and eraser.
The song Happy Birthday always sung to Dudley and other children at school, who were lucky enough to be born during the school year and not the summer, was always a mockery to Harry’s soul.
In a way, Harry told himself he was lucky. Even if his birthday was during the school year, no one would sing to him, no one would care.
Dudley always made sure of that.
“You’re lucky that your birthday is in the summer,” Tom told Harry in Sixth Year, as they waited out Easter in their usual spot.
Harry indulged him this time. “Why do you say that?”
“No one can pity you for your birthday sharing the same date as a holiday, no one can use that as an excuse to forget you.”
Those words cut Harry deeply. He tried to imagine that, living in a place where people disliked you, where people ‘forgot’ your birthday as an excuse to celebrate New Year’s Eve instead. At least Harry knew where he stood with the Dursleys, he didn’t think he could have stayed sane if they pretended they had the higher ground that day, if they insisted that they had to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s canonization or something instead.
“Well, shames on them,” Harry said quietly. “You’re pretty unforgettable, Tom.”
Tom kept doing that lately, looking at Harry as if he were this puzzle to solve, a puzzle to savour. He kept looking at Harry as if he mattered too.
But Harry didn’t. Not really.
“You too,” Tom said rather awkwardly, probably trying to be polite. It was rather endearing when he tried to be polite to Harry, even if Harry preferred his prickly self.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Sure.”
“I mean it statistically! I was born on December 31st and you were born on July 31st… We’re six months apart, even if I’m the superior one. If I’m unforgettable due to my status, then you are as well… because we circle each other in our date of births… like twin stars… tied together by gravity.”
Harry felt his mouth go dry at the thought of such beautiful words.
Tom began to scowl. “You don’t like it.”
“No, no, I do. I just… I didn’t think you thought of me so highly.”
“Well, you are the only one who keeps up with me. That doesn’t mean you’re my equal, it’s just a fact.”
Harry grinned. “But you just compared us to binary stars. I dunno, Tom, that kind of implies that we have equal mass, equal intelligence, charisma…”
“Oh shut up!”
“I can’t, I’m tied to you by gravitational force now. You’re not getting rid of me!”
They spent the rest of the afternoon chasing each other with spells, insisting to everyone that they ran into, that they were engaging in a deadly duel to determine the most superior spellcaster.
But their smiles told the true story.
Tom’s been glaring at Harry for the past half-hour. Harry’s starting to feel uncomfortable. He’s been trying to paint a giant landscape of the forbidden forest but it doesn’t look quite right without an owl in it… and another snake too… He really needs to branch out from owls and snakes in his paintings, it’s a very irritating but consistent hyperfixation.
When Harry hears Tom practically seethe again, he sets down his paintbrush and asks, “What’s got you all bothered?”
“It’s July 21st.”
“Okay…?” As far as Harry knows, it isn’t an important day of any sort.
Tom frowns deeper.
“What do you want?”
“Uh… in life? Because that’s a pretty broad question, Tom…”
“If you could picture the one thing you want most in the world to be happy, what would you pick?”
“Well, Hedwig makes me happy…”
“No, something you don’t have yet. What makes you happy?”
“I mean… flying? Teaching? Painting? My friends?”
Tom looks ready to rip his hair out. “That’s not what I mean… Isn’t there a void in your life? Something you desire or need beyond that?”
“I mean… no, not really? I used to think so, but since I met you again, teaching together, visiting each other… I mean, you pretty much fill that void,” Harry says, half-jokingly, but absolutely sincere. It’s not like Tom cares what Harry thinks of him and Tom might as well know.
Tom goes absolutely still before a strangled noise escapes his lips.
“Uh… Tom…? Are you alright?”
Tom stands up immediately and rushes to the floo. “I have to go.”
“Oh, um, okay, don’t…” Tom practically jumps into the fire, “go yet…?”
The silence laughs at Harry’s confusion.
In the days that follow, Tom keeps acting strange, staring at Harry with this unreadable expression, his touches lingering against Harry’s elbows and shoulders. The way he stares makes Harry hope and hope is a dangerous thing.
Best not to think of it.
But Tom always has a way of ruining Harry’s plans.
Especially on Harry’s birthday, when Tom shows up and puts a key into Harry’s hand.
“What…” Harry says slowly, “is this?”
“A key to my flat. And…” Tom adds, “if you want, a key to a future home together.”
“Move in with me,” Tom moves closer, “because you, Harry James Potter, fill a void in my heart as well.”
Harry drops the key.
9 - Do You Remember?
In Year 4, Harry and Tom were in the same class again. But so were Dudley and his gang.
Harry had felt quite nervous about this arrangement. While Tom did indeed terrorize their other classmates, he only did so in retribution for some perceived slight against him. If you left Tom alone, he left you alone. In fact, if you were polite to him… he was polite back (at least, he was to Harry.) Tom was actually… pleasant compared to Dudley.
Somehow, Harry felt that whatever was between him and Tom would change irreversibly if Tom were ever to see Dudley bullying Harry. Then Tom would become like everyone else…
While Harry wouldn’t say Tom was a friend… he was still something. A ‘something’ that Harry had never had with anyone else. He and Tom greeted each other in the mornings and the end of the day. Harry was the only one who knew about the little snakes that Tom liked to feed, the only one Tom let near the snakes. Harry had never had anyone, let alone someone like Tom, before to consistently talk to and he was too scared to name this thing between them, too scared to hold on tighter.
“If only I were a snake,” Harry murmured to the little garden snakes lounging in the sun. He was careful not to disturb them, standing guard over their patch of sunlight. “Or even a bird. Life would be so much easier…”
“So the freak wants to be a worm?! Christ, that’s new, even for you,” a shadow fell over Harry and the little snakes, darker than night.
Immediately, Harry stood up, covering the view of the snakes before Dudley could notice them. “What are you doing here. Shouldn’t you be pushing people around?” It was Dudley’s favourite thing to do besides Harry Hunting. Normally, Harry would have run by now, but that would leave the snakes vulnerable.
But Dudley chose now of all times to be perceptive. “What are you hiding there?!”
He shoved Harry aside.
“No!” Harry shouted as soon as Dudley laid eyes on the helpless and snoozing snakes.
Dudley flinched away. “Argh! You little creep! You actually have snakes here!? What are you going to do, sic em on people?! To hell with that!” He lifted up his foot, intending to stomp on the poor little snakes.
Harry didn’t think.
He tackled Dudley to the ground with all his might. He didn’t let go, even when Dudley started wailing on him. He only wished and wished with all his might, like the time he ended up on the roof, like the time he turned his teacher’s hair blue.
Let them go somewhere safe, anywhere but here! Let them be safe!
The snakes vanished just as Dudley threw Harry off of him.
When Dudley saw the empty ground, he whirled on Harry, fingers pointed in accusation. “Y-you did something! You made it look like there were snakes!”
Harry didn’t have time to argue with the absurdity of that fact (even if there was a part of him, deep inside, that knew he had done something, but he didn’t dare name it.) Dudley didn’t care.
Harry ended up being sent to the nurse because of his injuries. The worst thing was that when Dudley was suspended from school, he was treated as a king at home. And Harry? Harry was locked in the cupboard.
He curled up in his dark little cupboard and hoped that wherever he sent his little snakes, that they were safe.
(One day, Tom will tell Harry that the snakes appeared in Tom’s desk as soon as Harry vanished them. One day, Tom will tell Harry that the snakes spoke of Harry’s magic and bravery. One day, when they are older and out of Hogwarts, Tom will tell Harry of how he cornered Dudley down and threatened to turn him into stone and scatter his dust over a trash heap if he ever hurt Harry again.
But past Harry doesn’t know this.
At the end of Seventh Year, everyone at Hogwarts found out that Tom was a Parseltongue. Harry had been confused. He had assumed it was common knowledge, having heard the Slytherins deferring to Tom for being the Heir or something. He assumed that the whole speaking-to-snakes thing was a related-to-Slytherin thing and went about his day. He had wondered if Gryffindor has been able to speak to lions, Ravenclaw to birds, and Hufflepuff to badgers but apparently not…
The whole school reacted so polarizing about the whole thing. The Slytherins were more open about their worship of Tom (not that they were subtle about it before) and the rest of the Houses flinched and scurried away from him. The adults observed him warily. It was so so stupid and all because Professor Kettleburn had brought in ashwinders for Care of Magical Creatures and Parseltongue had slipped out of Tom’s lips.
Judging from Tom’s surprise, he hadn’t thought that his ability would stretch towards ashwinders too…
The truth spread like wildfire all throughout the school.
Ron and Hermione had even pulled Harry aside, even Neville had joined in, to interrogate Harry about Tom’s intentions towards him.
“You’re all being ridiculous!” Harry had told them. “Tom’s arrogant and rude and he can be downright mean, but that doesn’t mean his very nature is evil just because he talks to snakes! And for the record, I love snakes! They’re misunderstood. They aren’t slimy. They just want to cuddle for warmth, most of them are harmless!”
It was one of the first times he had ever yelled at his friends, and the first time he had done so in such a public place. With all these bewildered and scandalized eyes on him, Harry fled.
(But Harry didn’t notice Tom’s wide eyes following him.)
Tom found him later, at the astronomy tower. How alike they were, always seeking escape, seeking the stars and the sky for comfort. Harry wanted to fly out there forever. Tom wanted to rule over it and watch how small the world was beneath his feet.
But when Tom was with Harry, his thoughts calmed to a content almost-peace. If the world were just Tom and Harry in a tower forever, above it all, then… that wouldn’t be a bad life.
(So why was it so hard to ask? To reach out?)
Harry was curled up by the window, by Tom’s usual seat. He didn’t have to look up to know that Tom was there.
“I’m not going to apologize,” Harry said. “I meant every word.”
Tom knew it.
But he didn’t understand. He never really understood Harry, how he always knew the right thing to say, how Tom felt as if something was missing if Harry wasn’t there. Harry was Tom’s, and yet, Tom would never ask Harry to be his. He did not want to hear Harry’s answer.
If they were like gravity, pulling each other in, then they also repelled each other, a certain distance always maintained. It felt like the universe might shatter if they ever crossed that line. It felt like Tom would have to change, and he would not do it until he knew.
“…Aren’t you afraid of me?” Tom asked. Harry was ignorant of what being a Parseltongue meant and Tom had never bothered to tell him. Something about the image of Harry turning away from him was unbearable, forbidden. It was why Tom had never asked the Basilisk to kill anyone. Not while Harry was in school. Now though… now Harry knew.
Harry blinked at him, finally turning those brilliant green eyes towards him. “What? No,” Harry smiled, and the force of that smile took Tom’s breath away. No one smiled at Tom like that except Harry. No one smiled as if Tom was precious because he was Tom, not because of the power he represented, only Harry. “I told you already, I love snakes.”
The words touched Tom’s ears but he found himself yearning for those words to turn their love to something, someone, else.
And that’s when Tom knew.
“…So do I,” Tom whispered, sharing in Harry’s smile.
But he meant something else entirely.
Tom levitates the key between them both, eying Harry patiently.
Harry, in the meantime, has a meltdown.
“I… you can’t be asking… Are you really asking me to move in with you?”
The way Tom stares is enough of an answer.
“But… but we hate each other!” Harry blurts out that excuse, the words that he and Tom have always told others, their own magic spell to make other prying eyes leave them alone.
Tom doesn’t play along this time. His eyes are steady, they’ve always been a steady grey, they have always been steady as they watch Harry…
“Do we really, Harry?”
Harry’s lips tremble, his mouth goes so dry. The key falls back into Tom’s palm as he holds his hand out to Harry, if only Harry chooses to accept it. Tom’s key. Tom’s hand.
“Tom…” Harry says slowly, “do you… do you love me?” His voice cracks on the word ‘love,’ on the impossibility of it, of someone choosing Harry for once.
Tom steps closer, but he doesn’t touch Harry. Not yet. Not without permission. But his eyes trace Harry’s face hungrily, longingly.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“But you’ve never told me—”
“Don’t you remember?”
Every time Harry has given Tom a gift, a smile, a simple hello. Every time Harry has defended him. Every time Harry has met Tom’s arrogance with stubborn morals. Every time that they’ve paired up together to do magic. People whisper about them, such odd rivals, but every time, Harry stays. And in those actions, Harry has always said, I love you in the tune of ‘this can never be, can it?’
But every time Tom has smiled back, every time that Tom has accepted Harry as his partner, every time Tom has given back a gift in turn, every time Tom has stayed with him during such lonely Holidays, every time Tom has crashed through his floo, every time Tom has read silly children’s novels with Harry, every drawing that Tom has kept, every time Tom has looked at him…
He stares at Tom, wonders, can I really have this? Can we really make this work? There is so much still unspoken between them—Harry and Tom’s differing moral compasses, the dark magic that Tom practices in secret, how the Dursleys have made Harry feel unworthy of love.
But sometimes, gravity is about holding on while you fall through space.
Sometimes, gravity has always been love instead of hate.
Harry accepts Tom’s hand.
No words need to be said.
Slowly, Tom raises their intertwined fingers together and presses a slow kiss against the back of Harry’s hand.
They look at flats together the next day, hands still intertwined.
And despite the arguments in the decades to come, Tom makes sure that Harry feels loved the way that Harry has always loved Tom.